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2, Issue 1
November 16, 1999
The Metropolis Haunted by Speed
multi-storey car parks - the top decks are empty in the evening
art of subtlety is one of dissection. It is the killing blow delivered
when no one is watching, a strike under which the blood not only
blossoms but runs in augural patterns. Like dissection, subtlety
is a learning tool. You cut something up to watch the gears
spinning, to observe what is otherwise an intensely private ritual
made up of little movements that seem to hint at the secrets of
an otherwise infinite universe. The subtle art is the alchemical
one, an appreciation of hidden truths waiting to be revealed by
the manipulation of oracular elements. Little mysteries are perhaps
the greatest ones for they are forever pointing fingers down roads
that only lead to other roads, a beautifully untranslatable text
subtlety is lacking in most traditional art forms, let alone in
the hyperbolically grotesque melodramas of the vast majority of
video game cinematics. Its because of this lack, however,
that deviations stand out with such vehemence. Often these singular
pieces are paired with non-narrative games as if the demands of
story and coherence along a linear trajectory cripple the delicate
touch. A narrative has to be maintained some how, and the inherently
limited nature of video game cinematics too often results in a
colorful procession of stick figures endlessly tortured by cliché.
The non-narrative game is liberated from any plot considerations,
allowed to roam into more esoteric territory.
be that because there is no overarching story anything
that these games do comes across as surreal and pleasantly free
of an agenda (pure expression for its own sake) and while this
may be true, the accomplishment is not diminished. Abstract art,
though abstract, can still be judged, although admittedly by a
different set of criteria. The same can be said for these non-narrative
games. In some ways non-narrative subtlety, the ability to create
a story where before there was none, is more impressive than working
in the traditional forms of myth making. The cinematics of Wipeout
3, a new racing game from the people at Psygnosis, walk the
fine line between the formal control of the coldly beautiful,
detached image and the subtle exploration of a mysterious narrative...and
they do so brilliantly.
image is that of a stylized child, a figure built
of blue, red and white lines whose middle section revolves with
a hospitalic regularity. Next a sign appears celebrating the
designers republic followed by a metallic hued title: Intro
Sequence = Start...and then the scene shifts.
in a vast city, silent save the droning hive like buzz surrounding
the preparations for a mighty race. A cyclopean balloon hovers
above the buildings, looking something like those Thanksgiving
Day parade monstrosities. It leers down on the track; a face looking
like it was borrowed from a cartoon made back at the beginning
of the century. As we see this, a gibbering sound can be heard
in the distance, muffled and flattened, rendered alien by the
broken tongue of ancient speakers. Are we hearing a voice? Is
there life somewhere in this empty city? For there are no people
to be seen, no visible life, only the incessant rhythm of animated
machines...like the massive advertising signs rotating high above.
A countdown reaches 0, and the race begins. One image is repeated
throughout the montage: pieces slowly spin in the air, colorful
fragments frozen in recollection of some disaster. By the end
of the sequence we come to understand the significance of this
cryptic moment: the pieces, spiked by a temporal gravity, are
drawn together into the shapes of three futuristic cars and speed
backwards along the road, disappearing into a tunnel.
of time exist here: the alpha and the omega, the beginning and
the end woven together. It is a telling example of the delicacy
of this vision. The viewer watches both the cause and the effect,
his or her eye rendered prophetic by stitches in time. Is it possible
that some comment is being made on the endless repetition, the
never-ending cycle of speed that makes up racing games? The games
themselves are particularly well suited to the subtle establishing
of phantom narratives.
is all; one follows the track to its inevitable conclusion in
a fierce trajectory of fate. There is a scary purity to the contest,
a streamlined dream of victory parades and the fascist aesthetics
of pageantry on a monumental scale. This world of motion hides
a story in every corner.
the drivers of these spectacular vehicles, hidden within the metal
womb? Are they enacting some secret ritual? (His hands explored
the worn fabric of the seat, marking...a cryptic diagram: some
astrological sign or road intersection). What is the race?
Is it a drama repeated forever in-between the towers of an abandoned
city whose veins are filled with the blurred deja vu of passing
cars? Interestingly, for the racing scenes, the creators chose
to eschew the typical blue/gray color scheme of sci-fi design
in favor of a more autumnal palette. Browns, oranges, yellows
and blacks seem to emphasize the rusty age of this place. There
is an apocalyptic edge appropriate to these dying colors.
has witnessed both the destruction and resurrection of three of
the racing vehicles. The race, it seems, is a terminal one and
yet also regenerative. Its a wonderfully reflexive moment.
During the game, the player will be destroyed countless times
only to rise again and be given the chance to continue. Death
means nothing here in this dream of the future, as indeed it never
means anything in video games. This is not a profound philosophical
insight, but rather a charming way of commenting on an established
truth. This is not the end however. After the race sequence, the
logos of the different companies who built the competing crafts
appear in a montage of advertisements.
a very brief bit, a series of flashing wheels, arrows and block
letters coming together and breaking apart while in the background
we hear the crackling, accelerated droning of the soundtrack,
the pausing of some monolithic machine. The sequence is rather
beautiful, a hypnotizing combination of pastel colors and creepily
cheerful images, like a get well soon card given out
by a computer. Yet there is something more disturbing about it
than the design; in a way, it is a numbing reevaluation of the
race we have just seen. This is a world of advertisers, a deadened
place of colors, signs and symbols. Perhaps there is nothing at
stake, only endless ritual: a designer's republic indeed.
end, the cinematics of Wipeout 3 are relatively simple
ones (narratively speaking), as befits the game itself, yet they
are not brain dead. Beautiful and oddly haunting from a visual
perspective, the piece also magically skirts that line between
meaning and abstraction. The result is a dreamlike mediation on
the little movements and fragmentary glimpses, the subtlety that
seems to promise so much more.
Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames.
He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee
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